The Feltron Biennial Report 2010/2011: Connecting the days, the dots, the data

[Alyson Kuhn] The seventh volume of the Feltron Annual Report is fresh off the press. Actually, it’s fresh off a litho press, a 40-in. die stamping press and a sewing machine. Last week we caught up with information designer Nicholas Felton and printer Glenn Schuster from DataGraphic when they were both relatively stationary.

The cover of the Feltron Biennial Report 2010/2011 shows nearly all of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and a little slice of New Jersey on the left. The back cover (see top) shows San Francisco Bay and Monterey Bay.

Is this the first report you’ve done covering two years?
NF: It is. We spoke at this time last year about my 2010 Annual Report, subtitled “The Paternal Report.” After my father died in October 2010 and I discovered all his materials and documentation, I decided they were so captivating that I needed to do the 2010 report on his life. But my original 2010 “data collection scheme” was easily extended into 2011, so this new report is a comparison of the two years.

DataGraphic ran the 8-page report sheet-wise on a single form. Foreground: Page 6, “With Olga in New York City.”

And what aspects of these two years are you comparing?
NF: If this report has a subtitle, it’s With, When and Where. I had decided to keep track of every single place I went and how much time I spent with people — the people that I knew from prior experience I would spend the most time with: close friends, my office mates, my girlfriend and family. I had decided in October 2010 to move to Brooklyn for the first time, and then in April 2011, I began working at Facebook as a member of the product design team. So I now have a life focused on Manhattan and a life focused on the West Coast. In the report, I’m trying to graphically represent the dichotomies.

GS: On the cover, With, When and Where — in tiny type — reverses out of a flood of purple. Tiny type became the hallmark of this year’s report.

The inside front cover, titled Twenty Ten, shows everywhere Felton went that year (from Abu Dhabi, UAE, to Whittier, Alaska) and the number of visits to each and every location — typeset in 4.5 pt Freya Bold (5.75 leading and 0 tracking!).

GS: We sent Nicholas several rounds of drawdowns ahead of time, and we also sent die strikes. We had foil-stamped a very large map — the die was 22-in. wide! — on the 2010 cover, but Nicholas wanted a more tactile effect this year. He asked us to recommend a stock that could take a large emboss. We used the same stock as last year — Mohawk Superfine Ultrawhite — but went up in weight from 65 lb Cover to 80 lb Cover for a deeper impression. We also printed the mailing label on Superfine Ultrawhite. The pressure-sensitive backing and label liner are applied after printing.

NF: Because I wanted to list every single place I visited each year and fit it on a single page, we had to use minute type. The emboss was the key to the cover. I reviewed sample die strikes, and I attended the press run, but I didn’t see the interplay between the emboss and the printed cover until they literally came together.

The embossing die was so large it needed to run on a 40-in. Bobst stamper. Leaving the cover intact on the full form allowed DataGraphic to achieve perfect registration to the litho.

Did you use software you had developed to track and then graphically depict your data?
NF: For this approach, I found iCal to be the most successful way of tracking — it’s inherently visual already, especially with color coding. I could just drag a box that said I was with my mother from 6:00 to 8:00 … and if I saw a blank spot, I knew I needed to fill it or adjust. The precision of iCal is 15 minutes, so if I did two things within 15 minutes, I’d have to divide it, but 15 minutes could handle most short events, like my commutes. I also used and FitBit to collect data, and I wrote several applications in Processing to create the visualizations.

The 12 x 14-in. copper (1/4-in. thick) embossing die

GS: All the data pertaining to 2010 prints as a white knockout from the blue background [PMS 306], and all the data pertaining to 2011 knocks out from the magenta background [PMS Rhodamine Red]. That’s true through the entire report. But the data doesn’t stay separate, it overprints — which manifests as many gradations of purple.

NF: Rather than bucketing everything by categories — like food and drink and music — I’d rather do it by people, to show how the expression of Nicholas Felton changes based on who I’m with. This is set up by the structure, with spreads dedicated to the people I spend the most time with: Olga [girlfriend], Ryan [Daytum co-founder and business partner], mom.

A craftsman inspects the shoulder (angle of bevel) on the embossing die, to decide what makeready supplies (harder or softer) to use to build the counter for best effect.

Were you surprised by anything that the data illustrates?
NF: I think one of the most interesting elements that repeats is the time I spent with people based on the day of the week. There’s kind of a “fingerprint” for each person. I spent the most time with Ryan on Wednesdays, and the other days of the week form a bell-curve around Wednesday. My girlfriend and my mother are Saturday people; my sister is a Sunday; Matt is a Thursday. I love being able to reduce statistics down to some key thing. I can think, “Matt is my Thursday friend.” I think it would be extremely difficult to qualify a statement like that in hindsight without keeping track.

A craftsman at DataGraphic shaves down all the edges on the embossing die’s counter, to avoid what Glenn Schuster calls “nipping” — small but unsightly nicks caused when the guillotine cuts through a multilevel surface. Especially with a dark printed cover, the nips would have been apparent.

Do you design much print work other than the Feltron reports? Production-wise, the new report seems pretty challenging.
NF: In January, I had to sit down and learn the state of the world regarding typefaces. And I had to pull out my Pantone book. Those wheels were not lubricated! I had anxieties at every level of this report — which is one of the reasons I flew out to the plant for the press check. The finished report looks harmonious, but trickiness abounds. All the pie charts and bar charts contain some degree of overprinting to show the relationship between 2010 and 2011.

A seamstress stitches the four collated, unsecured leaves. The needle perforations create a “score line” on which the book can then be easily folded. After folding, the book is guillotine-trimmed on three sides.

And can we assume that your documentation of 2012 in progress?
NF: Oh, yes. I have an iPhone app that I commissioned to help me record my year — I had another problem that I wanted to solve — that wouldn’t limit me to these 15-minute increments. This app is helping me do some things in more detail and other things in less detail.

Does Olga now have a bicoastal life too?
NF: Olga is a musician. Last week she played at a festival outside Vienna, following her U.K. debut. Last Saturday, she performed a new classical piece at BAM in Brooklyn. She leads an exciting life!

Glenn Schuster comments, “Normally, we would put a booklet stitched like this in a special press to flatten it, but that pressure would have flattened the emboss on the cover.”

I understand you’re going to start shipping the new report this week. Have you shown it around yet to “your people?”
NF: I’ve doled out a bunch around Facebook. I was very pleased with the reaction — the rubbing of the cover and the smiling. I put a representation of the cover on a couple of months ago, so people would know it was coming soon and could pre-order the report. But I didn’t simulate the emboss in Photoshop — I shaded the area, so you could “see” the topography. I wanted people to experience it for the first time in person, when they receive their reports.

Photos of the Feltron Biennial Report 2010/2011 © 2012 StudioAlex. All other photos: Glenn Schuster.

Nicholas Felton’s infographics wizardry was featured in a short report by Suzanne Labarre on Labarre describes Timeline (the updated Facebook profile, in whose development Felton was hugely inspirational) as potentially “… turning everyone into Nicholas Felton.”

Visit DataGraphic here.

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Comments (1)

  1. Posted by Glen Dauman on 05.8.12 at 7:08 am

    Glenn What a project, Great job!
    Remember what I said about content

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